Elephants in the Room

Pyongyang Is Playing Washington and Seoul

Hollow summits between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States only serve to benefit the North.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Panmunjom, South Korea, on April 27. (Korea Summit Press Pool/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Panmunjom, South Korea, on April 27. (Korea Summit Press Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s televised summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday was spectacularly effective as pageantry aimed at South Koreans fearful of a U.S. attack on North Korea — and spectacularly empty in terms of meaningful commitment by the North to denuclearization. In fact, everything Kim put on the table was designed to reaffirm North Korea’s status as a nuclear weapons state and dilute Chinese and South Korean support for sanctions. Many veterans of negotiations with North Korea worry that Kim is now getting ready to play the United States. While the Trump administration’s tough sanctions no doubt had some role in pushing the North toward this summitry, one can also imagine exactly how this was a scenario the North itself sought from the beginning:

Memorandum to Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission

From: Vice Marshall Kim Jong Gak, director of the Political Bureau, Korean People’s Army 

Subject: Your meeting with Donald Trump

The successful test of our road-mobile, solid-fueled Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in November demonstrated our ability to strike the U.S. homeland with nuclear weapons. We are now preparing to enter the next stage of our plan to secure international status as a nuclear weapons state and to begin decoupling the U.S. alliance from the puppet regime in Seoul. As we expected, the U.S. intelligence community was stunned by the leapfrog in technology we achieved with our Ukrainian rocket engine design on the Hwasong-15 and believes that we are only months away from the final technological step of designing a warhead that could survive re-entry into the atmosphere. In fact, we have already mostly achieved that milestone, but the important point is that we have convinced the Americans that they have only months to stop our ICBM capability. Predictably, the capitalist braggart in the White House built a noisy crescendo for war as we demonstrated our deterrent, and this in turn energized the United Front Department’s fellow travelers in Seoul to clamor for a new peace mechanism on the Korean Peninsula and to broker a summit for you with the U.S. President Donald Trump. We can anticipate that the puppet government in Seoul will tell the Americans that their meeting with you on April 27 has demonstrated your good intentions. We can then discard that summit with the South like the boost-phase rocket of our Taepodong missiles. The real target is Trump.

As you declared with pride after the successful launch of the Hwasong-15, we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force. Now it remains only for the U.S. president to confirm that fact before the world. You will pledge seemingly historic commitments that are all unverifiable and easily reversed, many of which we have deployed successfully in past negotiations. These include your commitment (like your father’s and grandfather’s) to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, your pledge to join the global quest for denuclearization as the other nuclear weapons states have pledged to do under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a promise not to transfer nuclear weapons to third parties, a no-first use pledge, and a promise to halt testing and to shut down our nuclear test site at Punggye-ri (for added drama, you might invite inspectors to the facility). These commitments all parrot the aspirations of the current members of the nuclear weapons club and will thus confirm our membership in that club as we negotiate arms control with the Americans as a fellow nuclear weapons state. We, of course, made no commitment to cease production and deployment of our deterrent. We can easily reverse all these steps later, at the time of our choosing, yet already many in the imperialist and puppet media are proclaiming these meaningless declarations on your part to be a historic breakthrough.

In exchange, you will offer the U.S. president the historic opportunity to end the Korean War by replacing the current armistice with a peace treaty. We do not need to complete that treaty — indeed, we may want to prolong the negotiations as long as possible so that the Chinese, the Russians, and our fellow travelers in the South all continue urging the Americans not to undermine the prospects for peace by imposing further sanctions or intensifying military exercises and deployments. We will, of course, demand a reduction of sanctions, financial compensation, and an end to criticism of our so-called human rights record as a precondition for further progress. The U.S. hard-liners like national security advisor John Bolton or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may continue to impose unilateral U.S. sanctions, but with peace talks underway, China will relax its implementation of United Nations Security Council sanctions, and Putin will continue backfilling where China is a problem. We will also circumvent the U.S. financial sanctions by using our enhanced cyber capabilities to raid financial centers on the internet. In order to negotiate a peace treaty, the Chinese and the puppet regime in the South will push for four-party talks among the signatories to the 1953 armistice (the puppet leader Syngman Rhee refused to sign the armistice at the time, but it is useful for us to include the current puppet government). The four-party format will exclude Japan and thus weaken the hard-liners’ position within the U.S. camp and undermine the despicable Japanese confidence in the U.S. security commitment. The negotiating process itself will demonstrate that the result of our nuclear weapons status is concessions by the imperialists.

At a minimum, this stratagem will dissipate the U.S. campaign of “maximum pressure” with no appreciable setback to our missile and nuclear weapons programs. It is possible that we may unleash even more favorable forces of history as we press the Americans to abandon their hostile policy toward us. Fellow travelers in the South are already pushing for the transition of wartime operational control from the Americans to the puppet regime, and movement on a peace treaty could lead to calls for scrapping the joint U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command and the U.S.-led U.N. Command. We are not certain of the U.S. president’s intentions, but during his electoral campaign he threatened to withdraw all U.S. forces from the South if the puppet regime did not pay more him money. Our assets in Seoul report that the puppet regime’s current negotiations with the Americans for the next round of host nation payments (called the Special Measures Agreement) are going very badly — yet another useful example of how the current U.S. government’s arrogant attitude toward its puppet states is serving our interests. It is possible that the U.S. president will seize on a peace treaty as an excuse to end an expensive U.S. military presence in the South that he derided as a candidate.

While we cannot anticipate exactly how far the U.S. president will be tempted to achieve our objectives for us in his pursuit of vainglory, we will seize every opportunity to decouple the puppet regime and the despicable Japanese from the Americans. When we are ready, we will resume our nuclear testing and other coercive steps that will force a weakened and isolated South to make concessions and that will show the arrogant Chinese that they cannot implode a regime that possesses such powerful weapons. We have successfully executed this strategy many times to date, including: the North-South denuclearization agreement in 1992, the Agreed Framework in 1994, and the Pyongyang Declaration in 2002, and the six-party talks agreement in 2005. The imperialists are so decadent, corrupt, cowardly, and narcissistic that their leaders will continue to grab desperately at the same historic breakthroughs that have allowed our march toward full nuclear weapons status up to this point. We have long sought a summit with an American president to achieve this goal on the international stage and are now presented with that opportunity.

Michael J. Green is the senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a professor at Georgetown University. He served as the senior National Security Council official on Asia policy during the George W. Bush administration. Twitter: @JapanChair